Ring of Honor inductee Frank Gifford
Q: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the Ring of Honor?
A: It's pretty fantastic. I was out there the other day and I walked out onto the field. I looked around and said, 'Wow, this is a long way from the Polo Grounds,' and believe me, it is a long way from the Polo Grounds. It'll be nice. Of course, being selected as one of the members of the Ring of Honor is no question really a hell of an honor to be quite proud of. I'm looking forward to seeing how they do it. I hope they spell it right.
Q: For years, John Mara has wanted to do something like this. How do you feel being honored like this by the Mara family?
A: I've been so close to the Giants all of my life really, and I still go to all the home games. I sit with Mrs. Mara. As you're all aware, when I went into the Hall of Fame, Wellington Mara was my presenter and I was honored when he went in that he asked me to present him. I have a close relationship with the Maras and the Giants. I went to see a preview of a Broadway show, Lombardi, and it brought back so many memories, one of them being that when I met Vince Lombardi that he and Wellington were good friends when they went to Fordham. I guess that's when Wellington decided to take him out of high school football and put him into professional football. It's been a memorable week for me and I'm looking forward to Sunday.
Q: How do you think the show was as far as their depiction of Lombardi?
A: I thought it was awfully good. If I had one complaint, I'm not a very good Broadway critic. Kathy would jump all over me if I said the wrong thing because she loves Broadway. As for the show itself, it's hopefully on the way there. I don't see how anyone could depict Lombardi, kind of like depicting God I guess. He did a good job, I'm not sure of his name because I don't follow Broadway too much. Apparently, he is a fantastic talent. He had some of the characteristics of Lombardi. Vince was also very intelligent, a good guy. He actually developed a lot of the rougher traits when he went to Green Bay. Paul Hornung is a really good pal of mine and I've known him for years. When Vince went up there, we had quite a conversation about it. I think he changed a great deal when he became head coach. He was not the head coach here, and Tom Landry was the coach of the defense and Vince was coach of the offense. Yesterday was kind of weird for me because they're doing an NFL Films feature on Tom Landry, so I did that in the morning prior to going to the Lombardi play in the afternoon so it was quite an experience and it certainly brought back a lot of memories about both of them.
Q: Is the Ring of Honor something you wanted the Giants to do in the past?
A: I think it's a wonderful thing they're doing. Like I said, I don't want you to think that I'm not proud of it because I am. I quite frankly never thought about it, though. Somebody mentioned it to me and I said, "Yeah, what a really great idea this is." So I am, it's definitely unique to contribute to the history of the Giants, how far they go back and my association with them, my closeness to the Mara family, and to the Tisch family. I knew Bob Tisch for many, many, many years. My association with the Mara family is something I'm very, very proud of. I'm proud of the fact that this is the only team I've ever played with. I'm very proud of the time in the history of pro football when I played because it was vastly different. We didn't have agents, didn't have to worry about finances other than as soon as the season was over, we had to go to work because we couldn't afford not to. That's not the case anymore. The game is vastly different and it's better game. Do you think these guys are better than we are? You bet they are. They work at it all year long. We had a 35-man roster, and they have a 53-man. Everything has become a specialty thing. So, the game is different but to be remembered as one of the Giants who made it all happen, I'm very, very proud of that. I played in the Polo Grounds, and I played in Yankee Stadium. I have season tickets to this one. My association is long, and very, very strong.
Q: One of your coaches and Ring of Honor inductees, Jim Lee Howell, is often overlooked because Lombardi and Landry were on his staff. What do you remember specifically about Jim Lee Howell?
A: He had enough good sense to stay out of the way. I'm not demeaning him with that, either. I don't know how many people would have enough common sense or whatever would be the word, strength, to turn it over to two guys who knew a heck of a lot more than he did. He used to kid about it. He said, "All I do is blow the whistle and pump up the balls." That's about all he did, so he was right. I bet none of you could get on the ring with that. Nobody. I'm not the one who picked him for the ring, either.
Q: What are you proudest of about your Giants career?
A: I think playing for one team, and playing in a period of time where football was just happening. We played in front of really sparse crowds in the Polo Grounds, and with the advent of national television, I was right around the beginning, the game really began steamrolling to the top of the sports world because it's perfectly suited for television. You have the natural timeouts, you have the time between different plays, you have the halftime when people can go to the head, eat, whatever they want to do. It was almost designed for television, and it's made a huge impact. I don't know if one of the largest audiences to ever watch anything was one of the Super Bowls, if not the largest it was certainly one of the largest. Now, it's even bigger nationally with multi-lingual announcers and it's really phenomenal to watch the growth and be part of the growth. Having 27 years on Monday Night Football and see the use of television, I have been honored to be part of that and some of our people at Monday Night Football were very active and it was kind of special.
Q: Has it bothered you that you are remembered as much for being laid out by (former Eagles linebacker) Chuck Bednarik as you are for your success with the Giants?
A: I got over that a long time ago, and I get that all the time. I guess I've kept him kind of famous. He's one of the great players to have ever played the game. I've tried to explain this so many times but what I had was a spinal concussion. I turned around, caught the pass, and hit me in the chest. It snapped me back onto the semi-frozen field and it was years later, maybe 1997, I was getting numbness in my fingers and my hands, and I tried to explain this to people but they'd never heard about it. I went into the doctor, and I had stuff they did not have in 1997, and they gave me a cat scan of my neck. The technician asked, "Have you ever been in an automobile accident?" I didn't tell them that Bednarik wasn't the model of the car, but that's the only thing I could think of. That's probably when I found out I had the multiple fractures in my neck. Fortunately, after that injury, I didn't play anymore that season. A lot of people who are young sports writers and commentators are not aware of, was that I took a year off after that not because of the injury but because I had joined the evening television and I was working in that direction and was busy with the network radio show. I had played nine years, and it was very difficult to do what I was doing and still play football. I took a year off and I realized, look, the one thing that I had loved to do in my life was play football. I said I can do this, the reporting, television, and radio, for the rest of my life but I can't play football the rest of my life. I went back and played three more years, and they had moved me out to wide receiver and I went to the Pro Bowl as a wide receiver, the third position that I went to the Pro Bowl, having gone once before as a defensive back and then numerous times as a running back, and then one other time as a wide receiver. It didn't terminate me, but a lot of people thought that was the end. When they think and read a lot of things, they thought it was the end of my career, which is not the case as I said. I played three more years and had pretty good years.
Q: Do you remember players questioning the coaches or play calling or anything like that?
A: The only time I ever questioned myself is because Jim Lee Howell always made the third down decisions. Other than that, Charlie Conerly, our quarterback when he was in the game, would call the plays himself. We had a lot of things that went on in the huddle that didn't happen today because everything is done from the side lines. Charlie might come into the huddle and say, "Who has something?" and you better be ready with something. Alex Webster or myself, I guess more Alex than me, would come up with and had to be ready with a play. He said something like, "What do you have Frank?" assuming we had a third-and-two or third-and-three, and I would say "How about a 49 sweep?" He would say "OK, bottle left, 49 sweep, R-split, on three", and that's how we determined it. It's almost like kinetic, and Charlie had no sense of anyone trying to upstage him. He was just looking for help all the time. He was a great quarterback. Y.A. Tittle became the same way when we played later with him. He always wanted to know who to beat, what you think you can do. We didn't have the guys who signaled the play into the quarterback, we just did it by committee almost.
Q: The coaches never yelled at you or said, "What were you thinking running that play?":A: Not really. Not that I can recall. When you think about it, defense was the same way. Same thing calling the defense and Tom Landry would signal a lot of plays in. It was so different, and I had a lot more fun, quite frankly, because we played the complete game. Sam (Huff) would call all the defenses, and the only reason I know that is because he didn't talk to us for years because he thought we were awful. He had a great defense, and most of history, everything is credited to the defense. It was actually when there were only two beat writers: David Eisenberg and Bill Wallace from the New York Times. They were the beat guys. In the early days, they would come into the locker room and knew nothing about the game. Now, you guys are there all the time, and you know the players, their lives, what they do, when they get in trouble and when they don't. We were kind of anonymous. Like I said, the game grew up while I was here. The real turning point was when we went to Yankee Stadium, and I know for me I was awestruck when I walked out of the first dugout and walked onto the field at Yankee Stadium. I just couldn't believe it, having played in the Polo Grounds, which was a mess. It was like a stable, and as a matter of fact they did keep horses in there. It was a major step up and I couldn't help but think of the new stadium when I went last week. I looked around there, went to the museum, walked around and said, "Holy cow, what is this? We came a long way from the Polo Grounds."